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How Strong Must We Be in the Midst of Debilitating Pain?

Sometimes we have to give in to the pain and know that’s ok.

Key points

  • Many who suffer from chronic pain want to take control of it—and are taught that they should.
  • Those living with chronic pain often take steps to prevent attacks, as well as learn the warning signs.
  • Despite one's efforts, chronic pain can sometimes render a person lonely, without control, and afraid. When that happens, self-compassion is key.
Adrian Swancar/ Unsplash
Man in Pain
Source: Adrian Swancar/ Unsplash

We all want to take control of our chronic illness(es). We are encouraged and want to feel hopeful about all of the new treatments available—the medications, the devices, and nutritional advice. We want to learn our triggers, our warning signs, avoid destructive behaviors, and not give in to self-pity or feeling somehow a victim of living with a debilitating illness(es).

We are taught and want to do the activities that will help us—bring us relaxation, acceptance, and strength. We are taught to think positive thoughts, live well with chronic pain, and all of this makes total sense.

Until it doesn’t. Until I find myself in the middle of a migraine that, frankly, leaves me feeling helpless, alone, misunderstood again, almost like a child seeking understanding, help, assurance, and relief.

Several days ago, I found myself in this position. I had been doing pretty well considering the stress I was experiencing as of late. I was encouraged by my new medications, my regiment, my recent Botox, and the healing of my broken back (a result of my other, rather recent, chronic illness, syncope caused by POTS).

But then, I wasn’t. I felt the warning signs in the car early that afternoon. I had been running a couple of errands, and it started. I looked immediately at the clock, (as my “sleepy,” sometimes normal yawning time is around 4 p.m.), but it was 1:30 p.m. I immediately thought of a possible impending attack but pushed it back in my mind. I went home, took my dogs on a walk, thinking that would relax me, but the neck pain started about halfway through. It was coming up the back of my head, pulsing the trigger points at the base of my skull, not quite my usual pattern. Maybe some moist heat when I got home would help. After feeding the “kids,” I took my Diclofenac and anti-nausea medication but worrying now, I also took an Ubrelvy.

Knowing I needed to grade papers and couldn’t “give in” to the impending attack, I went downstairs and started some online grading (probably the worst thing I could do, and I knew it then, but isn’t it true that sometimes we know we shouldn’t do things that clearly exacerbate the pain and underlying problem, but we feel we have no choice?).

Then, the pounding set in behind my right eye. I dragged myself upstairs and took my new medication, Trudhesa. I curled up in a chair, with one of my goldens on one side and my cat on top of me. I felt so awful, in so much pain that I couldn’t tolerate the sound of the television my husband had on while making dinner, couldn’t focus on anything but the pain, and felt victim to my illness.

Yes, despite all the staunch support I have, the advantages I have with healthcare that so many do not, I caved in to the pain, the loss of control over anything.

I went to bed that night at eight o’clock, wearing an eye mask to shut out the light, earplugs to shut out the sound, my nightguard to soften the clenching, and, for a moment, I stepped outside of myself, looking at the picture of me, thinking how pathetic I was.

I woke in the morning so incredibly grateful. The medications had worked! They may not have worked as quickly as I would have liked, but they must have come through for me, as the migraine had lifted; it was gone. I was left with a hangover—at this point, a blessed hangover.

Ironically, the novel I'm reading, We Were Liars, has a narrator who is a migraine sufferer. When selecting the book, I didn’t know this, but in it, the protagonist struggles with the idea of not wanting pity, yet wanting recognition of her pain, and, yes, sometimes wanting pity: "You have no idea what it feels like to have headaches like this. No idea. It hurts," I say—and I realize tears are running down my face, though I’m not sobbing. “It makes it hard to be alive, some days. A lot of times I wish I were dead, I truly do, just to make the pain stop”’ (Lockhart).

I later learned that while the author does not suffer from migraine, she loves two people who do (Smith).

What do I want from this blog? I think I just want to share that we don’t always have to be strong, don’t always have to believe we have control, that it’s ok to sometimes give in to the pain and the various effects the illness has on us and our loved ones.

It’s far easier to be strong and convicted when we are not in intense pain and suffering. When we are, we can grow from acceptance and the realization that we are human beings living with ongoing illness, that we can sustain ourselves in the good times, prepare ourselves as best we can for the bad, and give in, when we need to, coming back to fight the next battle when it comes.


Lockhart, E. We Were Liars. Ember, 2018. Accessed March 13, 2022.

Smith, WH. “ E. Lockhart: An Exclusive Interview on We Were Liars.” Zoella Book Club. July 2016. Accessed 14 March 2022.

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